From the outskirts of Sweden, and from the outskirts of sanity, comes director-writer Filip Tegstedt’s feature debut, Marianne, a nightmare-chiller that mixes bad dreams and guilt with Nordic folklore.
We have mentioned Marianne before and now finally, on April 11th, the film will be making its first wide release, on retail and rental DVD in Sweden from Njuta Films. Marianne is a psychological horror film about a broken family in the small isolated town of Östersund. Among the pine woods, the lakes, the snowy mountains and the midnight summer sun, the story takes place on the fuzzy border between fantasy and reality. Krister’s wife Eva has just passed away in a car accident, and now he’s alone with his 18 year old daughter Sandra who hates his guts, and a 6 months old daughter who he doesn’t really know how to take care of. At night he’s haunted by bad nightmares about what happened the night Eva died.
Nordic Fantasy: Marianne is your feature debut, why did you choose this film as your first project?
Filip Tegstedt: Out of all the ideas I had at the time, this was the most personal and immediate for me right then and there. I’d just gotten in contact with the Mid Nordic Film Commission by chance, which is a film commission up north in Östersund where the film takes place. I grew up there but I was living in Gothenburg at the time (down south) and this was almost exactly a year after my mother passed away from cancer. I was walking around with all these feelings from that, and I had this story idea from a few years earlier about a man who’s haunted by guilt and is visited by a Mare, and I wanted that story to take place up north where I was from so it just kind of clicked.
Also, it was a story that was possible to shoot on a very low budget because it could be done with no lighting setups or special effects, just a camera, a sound guy and a couple of actors doing their thing.
Nordic Fantasy: Your film follows two Norwegian films that also deal with Nordic mythology, Troll Hunter (about trolls) and Thale (about a forest succubus), so what was the idea behind anchoring the film in another part of Scandinavian mythology?
Tegstedt: I started working on this story about the Mare in 2003, before anyone was really doing this. I wanted to create a kitchen sink realism type horror because in Sweden we’re very good with creating kitchen sink dramas but we don’t have a history of making horror films. My idea was that instead of trying to make an American style horror film or an Asian style horror film, it was important to embrace the Swedish film culture and make something in a style that fits with our culture and how we usually present ourselves on film. So it wouldn’t feel forced in any way. Horror is a fragile thing because instinctively people walk into a horror film trying to NOT give in to it. It’s not like a comedy where people walk in embracing the laughter.
Then I read Let The Right One In, and it was just a novel that I think was striving for exactly what I wanted to do, which is why I think it spoke to so many people. I’ve always had a fascination for Swedish folklore, especially the Mare and the forest succubus (so I’m very much looking forward to Thale!), and anyone who’s ever woke up in the middle of the night paralysed and know the fear that comes with sleep paralysis know it’s a great subject for a horror film. Troll Hunter is another great film in the same vain, and so is Rare Exports from Finland and Sint from Holland. I love those movies. Nordic folklore is so rich with creatures that have never been presented on film so it’s just great that people are finding out about it now before the stories die and people stop believing.
Nordic Fantasy: The film is in some places on the net described as a ghost story, to what extent is that true, considering the Mare mythology and the “brain pain” of Krister?
Tegstedt: In order to make sure the story would reach a wider audience than Sweden, I had to make a few adjustments in the Mare legends. The definition of a Mare is different depending on what part of Sweden you’re from, but she’s never really a ghost. I made my Mare sort of like a ghost and structured the film like a ghost story because it’s just easier that way. It’s a ghost story the same way 28 Days Later is a zombie film or The Lair Of The White Worm is a vampire film or Cat People is a werewolf film. If that makes sense?
Nordic Fantasy: Were you ever tempted at making the film a more physical horror film, maybe in order to make the film more commercial, or was it always going to be a very psychological mystery?
Tegstedt: I’m a major fan of The Twilight Zone and Donnie Darko. I love that kind of stuff. I think that kind of stories in films are important, the kind that makes you ask yourself questions about what’s going on and kind of takes you out of your comfort zone. So in that way, no. But I did hope it would become commercial. I like commercial films and I want to make commercial films. It’s ended up playing a couple of underground festivals, and someone walked up to me at one of them that I visited and I happened to say I wanted to make commercial films and got this weird frown like it was a bad thing. I don’t think it is at all.
Nordic Fantasy: Is it your opinion that, when looking at what happens to Krister and his family, we all have “monsters” inside us one way or another, and that we all could end up in a metaphorical horror film if we (deliberately or not) play our cards wrong?
Tegstedt: That’s an interesting way of interpreting the story. I’ve never thought of it in those terms, but yeah I would agree with that. I mean, we had a case here in Sweden a couple of years ago with a woman who murdered the children of her lover and tried to murder their mother as well. She was convinced he loved her and that she was doing the right thing. Things like this happen and it’s awful, but it’s real. Have you seen the documentary Dear Zachary? That documentary will break your heart and put it through a blender. Fictional monsters are metaphores for these kinds of tragedies. That’s why horror films are important. They let us understand the horrors of the real world.
Nordic Fantasy: The film is not a monster film, even with the Mare being present; what is really the theme you are trying to point at? Family conflicts perhaps, and there are elements of sleep depravation, school drop-outs, all of which feels very non-horror and kitchen-sinky?
Tegstedt: Absolutely. When you write a screenplay, you work with A, B and C-stories. The A-story is the main conflict, and if you’re writing a horror film (like A Nightmare on Elm Street), the main conflict is that there’s a monster trying to kill the main character. That’s what the film is. The B-story is the family conflict with an alcoholic mother. In Marianne, the main conflict or A-story is the father/daughter conflict. The B-story is the haunting. It needed to be that way because to me it was always about the drama of losing your family. Most of my family died before I was 30, and that was something I wanted to convey. The B-story about the haunting in this particular story also supports the father/daughter conflict and not the other way around. He’s haunted by guilt because of his bad relationship with his daughter. If the Mare is “real” or not or if he’s crazy depends on your own definition of what “real” is. To me, not being able to tell the difference between what’s actually happening in real life and what is only happening in your mind is about as true a horror as you can find. That happens with insanity. So while technically it may not be “horror” as such, Marianne absolutely deals with the themes of a horror film and it does have a monster that appears as many times as Freddy Krueger does in A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Nordic Fantasy: Marianne feels very much like a personal film, but is any of the story based on yourself or people you know, or did you just succeed in making it feel close and reality based?
Tegstedt: It’s all pretty much based on things that’s happened to me or people around me when I grew up. Not like every event and every character is a specific event or person I’ve known, but more like in one scene, a character might do or say something that someone I’ve known might have said or done, and in another scene that same character is doing something else that someone else I’ve known has done. The story in the film is kind of like a dream in that way, and I thought it would suit the story since dreams are a major theme I was working with in creating it. The film is filled with little details that are probably more fun for me but it helped me keep track of the inner logic of the story.
Nordic Fantasy: You both directed and wrote the film; during the writing process, how much did you envision the Mare and the physical terror to be seen on screen, and did that change in the editing when the film came together?
Tegstedt: I think I was envisioning more of the Mare than what eventually was filmed. But at the same time I always wanted to keep her out of focus and off screen. But again, you create this inner logic and a complete look of something, and then you show just a part of it and the rest will be sensed. You feel there’s something bigger than what we see. Like that scene in The Empire Strikes Back in the beginning where Han Solo and Leia are talking about a bounty hunter they ran into somewhere between the first and second Star Wars film on some planet we never get to see. It’s a glimpse into a bigger universe. So if I created a Mare that has a complete look and I know her face and clothes but only show parts of it at the time, you can sense there’s more to it.
Nordic Fantasy: How big part did the scenery and locations in Östersund play? Why not film in a bigger city with more logistics and facilities available?
Tegstedt: The scenery was everything. I grew up in that neighbourhood where the story takes place, my house was just two blocks away from Krister’s house. I’ve spent countless nights at that lake where Sandra goes at night, and roasted tons of hotdogs where they sit and drink beer. The church in the beginning is where our family grave is, and that’s where Krister is standing. The blue Chevrolet he’s driving in the opening is my car, my dad built that in the 60’s and left it to me when he died. When Krister walks out of his psychologist’s office towards the end, if he was living at the house we shot the film, that’s the health clinic where the psychologist for that neighborhood sits. I used to cross that little square every day on the way to grade school. You see the school in the background and the building where there used to be a small shop back then on that square. So it was all about where I was from basically. This is where the story takes place. It takes nine minutes for Sandra to ride the bike from her house in the middle of the night to the lake. All locations in the film are chosen this way. So that was important. Also, shooting this far up north allowed us to shoot for longer because we had the bright summer nights. Those scenes at night when Sandra is on the bike were shot at 1 AM with available light. That’s how bright it is up there. So it was a question of economy as well. I’m all for shooting a film in one city and calling it another in a film, but not in this particular one. Marianne was a special case.
Nordic Fantasy: The word Mare exists in virtually all of Europe in various forms, always referring to bad dreams or the creatures that bring them; how much research did you put into the mythology of the Mare being?
Tegstedt: I spent a whole day at the library in Gothenburg reading everything in their folklore section I could find about Mares. Unfortunately it wasn’t much. They have a lot of books but most stories about the Mare that have survived are the same. There are a few variations and a few different stories but that’s it.
Nordic Fantasy: What general movie or literary influences do you have for your movie-making? There’s a clip from Nosferatu showing on a TV in Marinne…
Tegstedt: Nosferatu, obviously. The Shining as well, and Dark Water and The Ring. The Japanese original versions of course. I think Hideo Nakata is a genious. But also movies like The Woman In Black (the 80’s BBC television film, and the London play), then there’s a TV movie from Iceland by Vidar Vikingsson called Draugasaga which had a real impact on me when I saw it in 1985. Phenomena, Let The Right One In, Donnie Darko, American Beauty, Repulsion, Black Sabbath, various John Carpenter films. I borrowed from a lot of sources. The Adore album by Smashing Pumpkins was a major influence as well when writing the story.
Nordic Fantasy: You funded the film yourself, that seems to be a common thing for Swedish horror film makers? Not that there are so many….
Tegstedt: Yeah, I sold everything and took a major loan. I wish there had been another way of doing it, but that’s what it’s like in Sweden when you want to make your first film. I know a bunch of filmmakers who are more talented than me who’s still struggling with financing their first feature after having tried doing it the “right” way for 5-10 years. After a while, you grow old. You find a girlfriend, you get kids. You can’t afford to take chances anymore. When I started this I was single and working a dead end job. I didn’t have much to lose so I bet everything on one horse. Not everyone can do that, and if there was a system in this country for supporting independent filmmaking we would see a much more diverse film culture with a lot of new and interesting storytellers emerging. But that’s not happening.
Nordic Fantasy: How would you describe the horror film climate in Sweden these days?
Tegstedt: It’s non-existent. Every now and then a horror film pops up but it’s really non-existent. There is no horror film climate, because horror films aren’t considered “quality films” so it’s hard to get funding. It’s hard to be funded by the Swedish Film Institute as it is, but even more so if you want to make a horror film. Norway and Denmark are very good at horror so we should be able to do it too, if there was money. But film production is getting easier and easier to make for a low cost. It’s come to the point where equipment cost is the least of your worry. So we just need to make a couple of great independent horror films and get the ball rolling I think. Horror films can sell to any country no matter what language they’re in.
Nordic Fantasy: The cast is a mix of professionals and amateurs, how did you ensure the right mix in the casting process?
Tegstedt: Most of the actors in the film had experience from theater or film. Thomas (who plays Krister), Tintin (who plays his wife Eva) and Peter Stormare are all obviously seasoned professionals. Sandra Larsson (who plays Sandra), Viktoria Sätter (Marianne) and a couple of the others have done some theater and they’re just very natural in front of the camera. Gudrun Mickelsson (who plays Sandra’s grandmother Birgitta) was an old friend of my mother’s and she had the right look and dialect, and she’s also a good friend of mine. Dylan is an old friend of mine and we’ve worked together before on a web TV series we made five years ago. I wrote the part of Stiff for him knowing he could pull that sort of stuff off. I don’t know anyone else who could have done it.
Nordic Fantasy: Marianne seems to have received mostly from good to great reviews internationally, how has it been received at home?
Tegstedt: We’ve played a couple of venues and recieved mostly good reactions. People respond to it. It’s really great. I mean it’s low budget and it’s not for everyone, but if people laugh at the jokes, look away or close their eyes during the horror scenes and are touched by the drama I’m happy. That’s all that matters.
Nordic Fantasy: After the movie was completed, it made the festival round; what are your hopes for the DVD release, which is the first wide release of the film?
Tegstedt: I hope people will talk about it and buy it obviously. If people do, maybe I can find distribution abroad and there are a lot of foreign fans who really want to see it but they can’t because we don’t have it released in NTSC, only PAL. The DVD has English subtitles though so if you can watch a region 2 PAL DVD you can still order from Sweden (I believe Discshop ships internationally, but keep an eye on our facebook, which is http://facebook.com/MarianneMovie for updates on where to get it). The more people talk about it online, and the more copies sell, the bigger the chance that I can pay back that 75000 USD loan I took to make the film.
Nordic Fantasy: Do you have any future plans that you’ll work on soon? What are your next film ideas?
Tegstedt: I’m working on a screenplay for a science fiction time travel thriller, but we’ll see what the next film will be. Once I have a first draft I’ll start looking for a producer and we’ll see what happens.
Thanks for the interview, Filip, and good luck with selling tons of Marianne DVDs!